Making learning easy

I just wanted to share a few free, open, online learning resources that seem to be doing things right.  They aren’t necessarily doing anything too original, but they do have some qualities that make them noteworthy – perhaps the most common of which is making learning easy.

W3Schoolshttp://w3schools.com/

W3 Schools is an excellent long-standing example.  It fits in that position that is part-learning part-reference, and provides a wealth of information on all of the major web technologies.  There had always been people generously creating various tutorials and making them available on their personal websites, but both the volume and quality of content on W3Schools makes it exceptional.  There are a few things is seems to do to make the learning easy:

  1. Structure: On the first page of the website, all of the content categories are listed down the left-hand side; and are grouped by use.  All of the content can be followed as a linear course, but you are still only three-four clicks away from any specific topic that you want to look at.
  2. Sandboxes: The examples section allows you to try out what you’ve learnt directly on the site.  You type something in (HTML, CSS, MYSQL etc.) and see the result instantly.

Code Academy – http://www.codecademy.com/

The Code Academy seems relatively new, and has recently tried to launch itself with the Code Year project (“Learn to code in 2012”).  It adopts a similar Sandbox approach to W3Schools, providing a working area where you are supplied with step by step instructions and see the results of your efforts (see image below).

However code academy are also has some other promising features:

  1. Tracking progress:  You create an account, and as you go through the activities your progress is tracked.  As well as providing you with an overview screen where you can review your own progress, you are also automatically awarded ‘badges’ for meeting various goals (a system that fits in with “gamification“).
  2. Sharing: As with all new online start-ups, Code Academy wants to hook into all of your social media accounts.  You can of course tell everyone what you are doing, but it will also automatically inform people on your progress.  The problem of trying to build a sense of community where people aren’t very chatty is reduced if people’s activities are visible.

A-Google-a-Day – http://agoogleaday.com

The concept of doing something-a-day has been widely used, particularly in relation to languages – either expanding your own or learning another.  As such a-Google-a-day follows well-trodden ground, but it does it in a good way.

  1. Real-world environment:  The question/answer area sits over the top of the Google web-page.  W3Schools and Code Academy are a little artificial, but in this case you are practicing with the actual tool that you are learning to use.

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